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In 2013, I shared a post written by a New York City elementary teacher, entitled “Data Shows Not Enough Teaching.” She is back today with an update, and although there has been a change in administration in New York City, testing at her school is excessive as ever.

By Katie Lapham.

While the public in New York is becoming increasingly outraged over Pearson’s Common Core assessments in English-language arts (ELA) and math, which, for 2015, will be administered for six days in April, little is known about the Common Core-aligned interim assessments that are given to many New York City (NYC) students in grades K – 5.  As far as I know, few parents (if any) are notified of these assessments and teachers receive test details just one day prior to the start of testing.

The week of February 9, 2015, over the course of four days, my NYC elementary school administered standardized mid-year benchmark assessments in grades K-5. They were untimed and make-ups had to be given to absent students. In grades 3-5, Schoolnet’s Common Core-aligned periodic assessment was used for ELA and the Common Core-aligned GO Math! middle-of-year assessment was given for math.  Grades K-2 used Pearson’s Common Core-aligned ReadyGEN end of unit 2 assessment for ELA and the middle-of-year GO Math! assessment for math.

I administered the first grade benchmarks to my class of 25 students. Pearson’s ReadyGEN ELA assessment was comprised of five multiple choice comprehension questions and five multiple choice vocabulary questions. It also contained a writing question for which students stated an opinion and included a reason (a detail from the text) to support their opinion. While students were given a copy of the realistic fiction reading passage, I was instructed to read it aloud to them three times. From the groans and sighs emitted from my students as I commenced the second reading, I deduced that they didn’t find the passage to be particularly riveting.

A number of questions and answer choices, which I also read aloud to them, were poorly constructed and confusing. A vocabulary question tricked students by offering large and huge as possible answer choices for What does enormous mean? For one of the comprehension questions – and for the writing piece – students were required to go back to the text to get the answer. I would have lost points on the test if I hadn’t re-read the part of the text that contained the information. Students had to know where to go in the text and they had to be able to both decode and comprehend the paragraph in order to answer the questions correctly.

As this test was administered in a whole class setting, I found it exasperating trying to make sure the students were paying attention and answering the right question. I observed that some of my strongest readers randomly picked answers – the wrong ones – and theorized that they weren’t paying close attention to the read aloud and/or to the reading of the questions. Only the multiple choice answer choices appeared on the test, not the questions.

The first grade GO Math! assessment was comprised of 40 multiple choice questions, which I administered over the course of two days. Of the 40 questions, 15 tested skills that students haven’t yet learned.  As I alluded to above, giving a test to a group of 25 first graders is emotionally taxing for the teacher. The kids sit together at tables so dividers are needed to prevent cheating. Also, first graders aren’t yet test savvy; some don’t know to consider all four answer choices before choosing the correct one. Multiple choice is NOT a developmentally appropriate method to use in formally assessing six and seven-year-olds.  Furthermore, because the test is read to students, teachers must be vigilant to ensure that students are on the right question. For these reasons, I decided to split up the class into three groups for the administration of the GO Math! assessment. While I was testing a small group, laptops occupied the other students. For group three, I had to translate the test into Spanish.

When I received the details of these mid-term benchmarks, I sent an email to my principal expressing my concerns about over-testing our youngest learners and suggesting that we instead use alternative assessments to measure their progress in math and ELA. After all, there is no dearth of testing in grade one; the school year, for example, begins and ends with NYC performance tasks (MOSLs – measures of student learning – used for teacher evaluation purposes only). The first week of February, I administered the unit six GO Math! test and had planned to give the unit seven test right after mid-winter break (I will not be giving it in light of the hefty mid-year benchmark I just administered).

For ELA, we conduct running records, which provide us with students’ reading levels, four to five times a year. There are also Common Core-aligned monthly writing pieces that measure students’ understanding of persuasive, narrative and informative  writing. Couldn’t the results from these assessments have been used instead?

I did not get a response to my email. However, I did receive a memo – sent to all staff members – that the results of the mid-term benchmark assessments would be included in the “Mid-Point Review of School Progress of the 2014-15 Comprehensive Education Plan.”

What is sacrificed due to excessive testing

The mid-term benchmark assessments given the week of February 9 were highly disruptive. All of grade one was in the middle of a rich and engaging ELA unit on fairy tales, which we teachers created on our own outside of the unpopular and developmentally inappropriate ReadyGEN curriculum. We were comparing different versions of fairy tales and identifying elements of fairy tales in each one. I was doing The Three Little Pigs – the original compared to Jon Scieszka’s version told from the wolf’s perspective – and had hoped to do a hands-on experiment using different materials to build model houses. Students would provide reasons in determining which materials were best to use to build a strong house.

I also envisioned writing our own class fairy tale. I pictured charts – one for each fairy tale element- covering the classroom walls. Students would write their ideas on post-it notes and would place them on the correct chart. We’d discuss and vote on the ideas students would have come up with for characters and setting, and we’d consider which elements to include in our tale: magic, good versus evil, number patterns, love and so on. I imagined my students’ big imaginations on display as well as their diversity as portrayed through their writing and illustrations. After fundraising to cover the cost of printing our class fairy tale, each student would have been thrilled to take home their own copy. I also thought about asking my husband, who works in book publishing, to explain to my students the process of getting a book published. Unfortunately, it won’t be possible to continue with this unit as we were recently  instructed to use Common Core-aligned ReadyGEN as our primary ELA curriculum. Future monthly writing pieces – including student work for bulletin boards – must reflect ReadyGEN content and skills.

In addition to the loss of meaningful learning opportunities, I was frazzled and our class routines were largely dismantled as a result of testing for four days during the week of February 9. For young learners, structure is critical.  I euphemistically referred to the assessments as activities – even using the word as a verb (“I have to activity group two now”) – but my students were not fooled. Behavior – both mine and the students- deteriorated that week.

Finally, when I return to school next week our professional development sessions will be used to norm and score these mid-term benchmark assessments, which were chosen by the administration. Because our first graders answered the questions directly in their test booklets, I will have to transfer their answers onto grids, which will then be scanned; their scores captured in an online NYC Department of Education database.  This means I will bubble-in 1,000 answers for math (40 questions x 25 students) and 300 for ELA (12 questions x 25 students), a mind-numbing, labor intensive task. There will be no time to plan units of study with my colleagues nor will there be time to organize field trips or brainstorm effective classroom management techniques.

   A Tale of Two Public Education Systems 

It is important to note that the excessive testing of students in grades K-2 is not happening at every NYC school. My daughter was not given mid-year benchmark assessments at her public school, which is committed to teaching the whole child. I suspect that schools with the lowest test scores – and therefore the biggest “achievement gap” to close – as well as weak parent involvement and a high poverty rate are the ones most susceptible to over-testing. Fearing potential school closure, administrators likely want to show the NYC Department of Education that they took all the “right” steps in preparing students – beginning in kindergarten- for the high-stakes Common Core state tests administered in grades 3-8. This is further evidence of a growing trend that I have been observing in NYC public schools and beyond. While some state and city mandates are uniform – such as the administration of April’s Common Core state tests – schools with highly educated and relatively affluent parents tend to offer more of a project-based, arts-rich education. Test prep exists but not to the same extent as in Title I schools like mine, and resources are available for enrichment programs.

What do you think of this? Are you seeing students lose meaningful opportunities to learn due to excessive testing of this sort? 

Katie Lapham teaches first grade in New York City. You can read more of her work at her blog, Critical Classrooms, Critical Kids.

Image by Steve Czajka, used with Creative Commons license. 

Author

Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.

Comments

  1. Don Corley    

    I absolutely agree with what is said in this article. I worked 30 years in Title 1 schools. Twenty-seven of those years were spent in a large school district in one of the highest poverty areas in the country – the central valley of California. We were micromanaged big-time by district administration. We tested throughout the year; the English learners were hit the hardest. Before I retired in 2012, the district even made sure that “learning” continued after testing at the end of the year. They gave us specific curriculum to teach. They didn’t want us doing anything creative or fun with the students (or meaningful). Of course, it’s always those who are the longest out of the classroom or furthest from the classroom who call the shots. Heaven forbid that teachers should be consulted or included.

  2. Firstgrademonkey    

    We did computer generated testing for our first graders. We have three first grade classrooms at my school. Two classes were scheduled to test at 9:00. My class was scheduled for 10:00. We were pushed back three times. We finally got into the computer lab 45 minutes late. It took another 45 minutes to log the whole class into the test. My students got to answer a whopping 7 questions before we had to exit the test due to the lunch and prep. Schedule. When we logged in to finish the test the next day, I had students who couldn’t answer questions 8 and 9. The computer started them at question 10. We tried using the previous question button to get the children on the right question. It took them to question 7. Push the next button, back to question 10. We then tried the test summary as it will allow you to click on a specific test item. Items 8 and 9 are missing. At the second to last question when the students clicked next five students lost the last question. The test ended. Again we attempted to go to the previous question without success. The final step is to check for unanswered questions. The test shows which questions a student failed to log an answer. We are supposed to go back and redo those missed questions. We check each student before logging out of the test. When we end the test it gives us the results as to y or n for each question. The test showed that the students magically answered questions 8 and 9 as well as the final missing question. But I also had a student with unanswered questions after the log told us he had answered each item. How reliable was this. And this doesn’t even address the question of the reliability and validity of this type of test for first graders.

    It also forced the loss of teaching time. We lost two complete mornings to complete this nonsensical test. What many also fail to note is that once the test is over, the students are done as well. They are exhausted. They become uncooperative with any learning activity. Their brains and emotions just can’t do any more. This means that anything taught after the test is a total loss as well. So it really means the loss of two instructional days.

  3. Ray Brown    

    Common Core, with all the testing is demoralizing to our children. I retired in June of 2014 , with 31 years in education, 18 in special education , and we started using Common Core last year. Since NCLB and now its derivative on steroids, CC , it has gotten far worse for teachers and students. My wife owns a hair salon/barber shop that always has many clients. She always asks the children if they like school, and all say they do not like school. Common Core, which was never designed by teachers, but was developed by “Corporate Reformers” has been detrimental to our profession. I read one professor who wrote that in my state, California, there has been a 50% drop in people now in education programs to become teachers. Besides the high tuition, I tend to think they are hearing that teaching is not fun anymore for teachers and students, for it has become very regimented. If I had a son or daughter today, I would discourage them from becoming teachers, and I went into teaching, like others in my family out of the love of this field. Now, seeing what this testing has caused, I would not have the heart to cause so much stress on our wonderful children. (I discussed this with a fellow teacher that has a 16 year old daughter and a twenty year old daughter and he has discouraged them from going into the field we both originally went into for the pure love of teaching.) This is a crime that students have lost so many wonderful educational electives because we now have to teach to these tests in Title 1 schools. Ray Brown, M.A., Bilingual Resource Specialist

  4. nicky    

    I have to check with my school to see if pc tests are being done but what I am seeing is timed tests for reading and math being given and results documented on a Pearson spead sheet. At 6 years old, how is this adding to their education. is it fair to gage my son who wont be 7 until the summer to other kids in his class that are turning 8. Where is the love of learning gone. The kids are miserable and dread when it comes time for math. numerous sub teachers have had no clue how to teach the 1st grade math or even remotely understand it. Its an utter disgrace and I cant understand why more parents are not completely furious.

  5. Jennifer Mortazavi    

    I sit here a heart broken Florida parent thinking of my child. Thinking of the stress they have to encounter because their mommy or daddy does not make enough money to send them to private school. Realizing how once again the state of Florida lets our children down. They allow them to be discriminated due to their parents financial status. You see if my child attended private school he is not required to take the FCAT or FSA. They would take the IOWA and not be held accountable for the results. From what I understand this is a state of Florida mandatory exam. Yet private schools that are located in the “state of Florida” occupied with children who reside in the “state of Florida” are not required to take these exams. Where is the equality for our children? Where are the laws that protect our children? Our children continue to be let down by the state of Florida. Enough is enough, our children have a voice, they have rights and they deserve to be heard. My child now attends Saturday school to prepare them for this exam. What is a private school student doing on Saturday? Enjoying a beautiful Florida day? Our teachers were just trained last month and are now expected to teach our children an exam in two months that will judge them and rate them. The state of Florida is causing high levels of stress and anxiety in our youth without being held accountable for the damage being caused. The stress is affecting our children’s confidence, behavior, sleeping patterns and overall health. Is it even legal to reprimand a child for their parents financial status. Why are we allowing this discrimination? Is this not illegal? If this is a state exam all children in the “state of Florida” should be mandated to take this exam. As parents of children in the public school system we should protest so that our children are treated equal. So that all children be required to take or not take the same exam across the board. Who do we address? Where do we complain? How do we become the voice for our children? We need change! We need action! My husband nor I took exams that labeled us nor judged us. We both grew up to be educated professionals that came from the public school system. I vow to gather all concerned parents and request change and equality for our children.

    1. Ray Brown    

      Dear Jennifer,
      No child should have to take these tests. Obama’s children don’t need to take them and I am sure Arnie Duncan’s children our in private school’s too. Duncan, corporate” reformers” and Obama helped create Common Core which is NCLB on steroids. I just retired as a special education teacher and my wife has a very successful hair salon/barber shop and she asks all the children if they like school. They all say, “No!”. It’s crazy now, all over, and we live in California . Reading and math have taken over at the expense of art, music and sometimes P.E. I guarantee you that Obama and Duncan’s children have wonderful extra curricular subjects like you and I had.
      I don’t know if you saw the video that Anthony Cody presented about 3 honor’s students, two twelfth graders and one tenth grade honors student. The two 12th graders had calculus and all three girls could not do the 6th grade math test under Common Core. CC has no input with teachers and big business does not know our children. I would say, have your child refuse to take the fatuous test if he is stressed out. It’s not worth his health. Ray Brown, M.A. Retired bilingual resource specialist.

  6. Kristi    

    My concern deals with MAPS testing at kindergarten and first grade. We do it 3 times a year and each time it is over 50 problems. The students sit the entire time in a quiet library to do the test in one sitting. Then every aspect of it is analyzed to justify if the teacher is doing her job. My students raised an average of 20 points. The national average is 17. All my students advanced from the beginning of the year. I had a student go up 20 plus points, quite a bit above average, but dropped a few points in the National Percentile. I was questioned about my teaching methods. This same child in first grade learning how to edit e-books, create stories, use digital photography, and dropbox to collaborate with an author. Where were those skills on this test?

  7. Firstgrademonkey    

    There was the year where my student growth on Dibels testing from the beginning to end of year testing was 300%. Over half the class ended in red. I ask what more could I do?

  8. ciedie aech    

    The very existence of Title I money seems to have been a powerful magnet attracting those who would find personal profit in money set aside to aid our nation’s poorest students; so many quickly jumped on board with NCLB and then R2T (and now ESSA) in getting their own slice of government money with test making, test, grading, test processing, test aligning, test revision, test proctoring, test organizing. The list goes on….

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